I met James Hannah at his launch party for The A-Z of You and Me. I’d already been fortunate enough to read a proof copy of his beautiful debut. I know when I like a book, and within pages I knew that this would be on my favourites of the year. He writes with beauty, eloquence, and compassion. The A to Z of You and Me is the story of Ivo who we soon discover is dying, that’s not a spoiler by the way. Sheila is the nurse who cares for him. She gives him the idea of the A to Z whilst he lays in his hospital bed. For each letter he must come up with a body part and a story about it. This is where we discover Ivo’s back story and of Mia. It is tender, heartbreaking, and also funny.
I shook my literary pom poms for it from the first read and know others that share their love for it. Anne Cater and Leah Moyse I’m looking at you. We are the ‘super fan trio’.
Twitter is such a wonderful place for books. Talking about them, sharing the love, and interacting with authors. James is exactly the same on Twitter as he is in real life. I was thrilled when he asked if he could come for a haircut.
One thing life has taught me is that there are so so people you come across in your life, and then there are those that are truly lovely. James is one of those who is truly lovely.
We had a marvellous time whilst I cut his hair. We talked books, writing, life, and more books. We were both adamant of our love for beautiful writing in a book, of those exceptionally crafted sentences or paragraphs that make you stop and gaze off into the distance.
Now I can talk for England in certain situations, and am still concerned to this day that James could have missed his train home with my constant rabbiting. He has since assured me he didn’t.
I also saw James Hannah at a Waterstones Picadilly event with Jason Hewitt and Emma Hooper about Narratives of Memory. It was great to hear James talk more in depth about his writing process and why he wrote The A to Z of You and Me. This I attended with the ‘super fan trio’ (see above), and we were all in agreement that James should do more events.
Here is lovely James’s Q&A…
Where are you going on holiday?
I haven’t been on a week-long holiday since 2006, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to break that duck this year. If I can manage, I’d really like to spend three or four days in St Ives, Cornwall, where I once made my wife cry with laughter by the simple expedient of being shat on by a seagull. It thumped me so hard in the chest it made my voice jump mid-sentence.
My wife howled her way to a nearby chemist to procure some tissues, and by the time she’d got to the front of the queue she was so hysterical she couldn’t say anything. The woman behind the till thought she was having an episode.
Anyway, we like to go back to St Ives again and again, and my wife often wanders around looking hopefully at the sky.
How many books would you take for a week away? Favourites or new reads?
I’d take a couple, hopefully very different from each other. Holiday is absolutely my favourite place to read and write, because you have that whole sense of “maybe I could just do this and eat ice cream and chips forever”. It’s wonderful. And now I come to think of it, they’d tend to be books I’ve been meaning to get round to reading.
I have great memories of reading a copy of Great Expectations that belonged to the holiday cottage on the Warren, St Ives. I needed to finish it by the time we left, which is absolutely the best way to read it.
What shampoo do you use?
If you leave your hair long enough, it starts to clean itself doesn’t it? That’s what they told me when I was a teenager. And all shampoo’s the same, isn’t it? It’s all soap. So if I’m going out to a posh do I might scrub my head with a bar of Imperial Leather*.
* please see note at end of post.
Are you doing anything nice at the weekend?
Most Saturday mornings I can be found jumping around on the bouncy castle with my two-year-old at the local soft play area. Most Saturday afternoons I can be found groaning on the sofa holding my back. Sundays is Antiques Roadshow.
What book are you reading at the moment?
You mean PUBLISHED book? *winky wink*
I have four on the go. I’m reading American Housewife by Helen Ellis (during the day — it’s sharp and very funny), A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale (audio, for washing up and ironing to — it’s immersive and brilliant), Get It Together by Zoe Williams (audio, for driving — which is very inspiring about how the NHS might be approached) and One Man Band, the third of four volumes (out of a projected two) of an Orson Welles biography by Simon Callow (for bedtime, after I’ve finished writing — the text is extremely tightly tracked, but the biography is marvellous).
If anyone alive or dead could tweet about your book, who would you like it to be?
OK… I’m going to say Nick Drake. He’d perhaps just link to it at Wenlock Books (http://www.wenlockbooks.co.uk/jameshannah) and have a laughing emoji and a sad emoji and then a guitar emoji. And then a thumbs-up emoji.
By a series of amazingly serendipitous events, Nick’s sister Gabrielle Drake [clanggg!] came along to my book launch, and I was able to press a copy into her hands. It was one of the major moments in my launch year for The A to Z of You and Me, and I’ll certainly settle for that.
What’s the worst hair disaster you’ve had?
Ah, it’s complicated. I’d bought some Hubba Bubba from Tooth Newagents on Landcross Drive, Northampton. That night, I hatched a plan: I cleaned my teeth properly, kissed my mum goodnight, hopped into bed, and surreptitiously popped a fresh Hubba Bubba in my mouth and began chewing away. Then I fell asleep. Sure, I mean, I could have choked to death, but what happened was in some ways worse.
The Hubba Bubba flupped out of the side of my mouth as I slept, and I spent the rest of the night rolling and mashing it between my pillow and head. When I sheepishly crept down the stairs for breakfast the next morning, my mum had to cut it out of my hair with the kitchen scissors. She then took the altogether too-drastic step of arranging with Tooth Newagents that I should never be sold bubble gum again, which meant I became notorious in the district.
To this day I still get that frisson of danger when I’m buying my weekly quarter of Hubba Bubba.
The A to Z of You and Me is published by Doubleday.
* James does NOT wash his hair with Imperial Leather!
And FINALLY, inspired by The A to Z of You and Me here is my own hairdressing related A to Z.
The growth phase of hair.
Iconic cut. Think Louise Brooks and Vidal Sassoon
Best treated with a shampoo that contains Ketaconazole.
A word ‘hairdresser’s’ use to make something cool ie ‘edgy’ bob, ‘edgy’ colour.
F. Fashion techniques….
Dip dye, balayage, ombré.
The colour you don’t want your hair to be, unless it was requested (see F).
H. Happy hair
The new technology for ceramic irons.
Reverse graduation, invisible layering, asymmetrical, pre-pigmentation.
The composition of hair.
…and no you can’t just have 1.
With my scissors and comb I sometimes am.
So important for healthy hair.
O. Over processed hair
This is not good, so be kind to your hair.
Just no! At least lie and say you use something else.
Q. Quiet time
I honestly don’t mind if you don’t want to talk.
R. Recommending books.
I get told them and I keep them.
The other name for split ends
A must on a salon visit just in case….
V. Very lovely clients
…who then become very lovely friends.
W. White hair
Those that clients don’t often like. Not necessarily a sign of ageing, it’s hair that has lost its pigment.
X. X rated stories
…which I hear a lot.
Y. Yes I would love you to bring me a coffee!
how I sometimes feel after standing for 8 hours plus without sitting down.